Resources for Educators who are recruiting and enrolling students from China in the USA.
Published On: Thu, Jan 9th, 2014

INSIDE THE CHINESE MIND: Chinese students graduate, then what?

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mindPREFACE January 9, 2014
I am grateful that Chinese students feel comfortable enough with me and my fellow bilingual friends to share what is on their minds. I have had conversations with these students here in the US as well as during my visits to China. I also exchange stories with my close friends and fellow educators who host Chinese students in the U.S. (In other words, what I am about to share with you is not fabricated. They are actual stories and testimonials from Chinese students and their moms). I have reached the understanding that no matter what region these students are from, they are all under enormous pressure because they are growing up in an intensely populated and competitively challenging environment. Despite modern China’s progress, there is still this dichotomy within the Chinese mindset of being modern yet holding onto age-old thinking regarding gender, status and family.

Before they even graduate, most Chinese students have a pretty clear path as to what their future holds. This path has been programmed in their minds by their family and community ever since they were a child. Some of the reasons behind what they need to do and how they view society may seem offensive to modern Americans but that is because these students plan to return to China. Many of them know that is it difficult to stay in the U.S. so despite what they have learned in America, they have to return to live and endure the Chinese societal standards. Let me give you a glimpse into the minds of the modern-day Chinese individual.

More and more Chinese girls are studying abroad in the U.S. but despite the modernization of China, I was shocked to hear how many of them are still pigeon-holed to think a certain way. Of course, not every Chinese thinks this way if they have worked abroad or come from highly educated and wealthy families. For instance, a dear friend of mine has a bright young lady (age 24 Cornell law) interning for her. The student does not come from a wealthy family but she was taught a certain way. She will say things in Chinese that could offend any American but my friend is of Chinese decent and does not take the comments personally.

The student candidly shares how she must return to China, find a job and get married before she turns 30. Apparently, when you are 30 year old female, it is better to say that you are ‘divorced’ then unmarried and single in China. She is taught to believe that ‘men prefer younger women and that after turning 30, women are too old.’ She continues to say that ‘women in their 50s are ancient’. This explains the reaction I received when I brought my 75 years-old mom to China to visit the parents of my teenage students. So many of them were shocked by how modern and vivacious my mom looked for her age – she’s no hunched-over granny!

When asked about love and happiness, Cornell student said that these are not required in a relationship. ‘If the man is tolerable and not offensive, he will do.’ So long as she does her duty to marry her boyfriend at a certain age, give birth to a son and find a job, she will be fine. If I recall, there are more boys than girls in China due to one-child policy but girls are still programmed to think a certain way. In China, a twenty-something woman will marry a man because of his ability to provide- period. A man is sized-up and can only be a serious marriage candidate if he owns a house. A Chinese man has a lot of pressure to be fiscally responsible for his wife, child, mom and dad, grandparents and inlaw’s family. When my friend asked the Cornell student about why she wanted a son, she said ‘that its because the parents will move in with the son. If a family moves in with the daughter, it will be taboo and embarrassing for the husband’s family.’

This reminds me of my encounter with a Shanghainese mom who rented out her daughter’s room to my friend. Shanghainese mom called me ‘fat’ and my twenty four year-old girlfriend ‘old’ even though I was clearly the older one. Anyhow, she went on to say that once her daughter returns from her studies in the U.S., she is to marry a man with a good career who can afford to buy a house and can take care of everyone on both sides of the family. Last year, I met a woman who ran a factory in Shenzhen who was sending her daughter to U.S. She was only 3 years older than me but with a 18 year old daughter (I wonder what they must think of poor unmarried me-being sarcastic). She said that she would rather not let her daughter study abroad if she does not apply herself. She can save that money for a really good dowry and marry her daughter off to a nice wealthy man. This is coming from a woman who is educated, entrepreneurial and was separated from her Taiwanese husband (that is an entirely different story for another post). She has a lovely daughter, success, money and a practicing Buddhist but I did not sense that she was genuinely happy with her life. She wanted to gain control of her life and her daughter’s life. When I met her daughter the first time, I thought the poor girl was going to commit suicide since she seemed so depressed. Her nagging, overbearing mom definitely meant well but was too much for her daughter.

Clearly, no matter how much China has changed on the outside, certain values contradict in their society. Perhaps as more girls study abroad, they will learn to be emotionally healthy, find love and be happy. As for the boys, I will have to continue their story on a separate post.

By Irene Tieh
Cross-Cultural Connector
USA College Connection Founder

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